With the holidays just around the corner, people are prompted to eat, drink, and be merry by dining out, particularly since so many of us stayed in place last December. This year, restaurants are competing not only for diners but for restaurant staff, too.

Restaurants are bracing for a challenging holiday season marked by surging demand, staffing shortages and a national scarcity of certain ingredients. September showed 10.9 million job vacancies for 8.4 million unemployed people—with exit rates among employed individuals higher than normal. And more data revealed that 83 percent of Americans plan to dine out during the holiday season and 84 percent of restaurant operators expect to meet or exceed pre-pandemic sales levels during this time frame.

The quick-service restaurant industry has always experienced higher turnover rates compared to other industries. In response to ongoing labor shortages, brands are offering more material incentives such as higher wages, signing bonuses, and more flexible hours. A McDonald’s in Florida recently paid people $50 just to show up for a job interview.

To stay competitive, restaurants must step up their hiring and retention game to reap the rewards this season brings. Following are suggestions for staffing your restaurant and hopefully keeping those workers with your brand as we round the corner into 2022.

Pay in creative ways

When it comes to hourly rates, offering higher wages works but isn’t the only incentive. Consider getting creative with holiday pay by providing bonuses or benefits like child-care assistance, help with tuition, paid volunteer work, mental health days or even finance classes.

Grindhouse Killer Burgers’ owner and founder Alex Brounstein has implemented a five-year plan in which more benefits kick-in the longer an employee works for the brand. After a year of employment, the restaurant will pay 50 percent of a worker’s health insurance. After two years, the person is awarded with a $250 bonus. At three years, an employee receives five days of paid vacationall of which help reduce employee turnover.

Give and take on both sidesrestaurant and employeecan help you staff up on the days like New Year’s Eve that employees are needed most.

Offer flexible schedules

Data shows seasonal workers prefer flexible working hours over staff discounts on merchandise. Therefore, to attract holiday employees, restaurants should let potential workers know you’ll try to accommodate flexible working hours in holiday job postings when feasible. Doing so could very well provide an increase in restaurant applications.

Rely on the gig economy

If you have yet to hire gig workers, now could be the perfect time to do so. Gig workers, also referred to as on-demand employees, typically work temporarily for a company on a case-by-case basis (think Uber or Lyft drivers). They often use digital applications that make finding jobs (and hiring these workers) as simple as pressing a button.

A subset of gig workers, a fly, is a part-time hourly employee that picks up shifts when employees can’t make theirsand can be a lifesaver for restaurants short on staff at the last minute.

Serve up a robust referral program

An oldie but a goodie, referral programs incentivize employees by giving compensation or another award when they introduce and bring in viable candidates that join a restaurant team. Think about, for example, offering a financial reward when an employee refers a friend and another reward when that person stays for six months.

A referral program keeps employees engaged, reduces turnover and shows employees you appreciate their contributions by suggesting someone who would be a good fit to your staff.

Get resourceful when it comes to hiring

KFC plans to hire 20,000 employees after stellar first-quarter sales. Mellow Mushroom Pizza declared last May to be the “National Month of Hiring.” Yet restaurants struggle to hire and retain staff, particularly during the busiest time of the year.

Hiring and retaining staff is a top priority for restaurant owners and operators, and they’ll have to get resourceful to get a leg up on the competition.

So, take hold of our list of tips you can use to attract and retain employees during the busiest time of the year—check it twice. Hopefully, an idea or two will stick, help you bolster your staff and ensure your brand has one of the most successful and profitable holiday seasons ever.

Dirk Izzo serves as President and GM of NCR Hospitality. He is a seasoned leader with experience in building and marketing innovative cloud-based solutions to help clients optimize their business performance. In his current role, Dirk is responsible for developing simple and innovative solutions that run the restaurant from end to end. NCR is the technology provider of choice for restaurants around the world and Dirk is focused on delivering the next-generation software, hardware and services that delivers on what customers want, when they want it.

Employee Management, Fast Casual, Outside Insights, Story